FORT EDWARD -- Both humans and horses have different chapters in their lives. It just so happens those came at the same time for Jim Hooper and Inherit the Gold.
Hooper and his wife, Susanne, own a thoroughbred farm, Haven Oaks Farm in Fort Edward. Hooper also trained some horses, most notably Inherit the Gold, a New York-bred gelding with whom Hooper had great success. Inherit the Gold won the Grade III Excelsior in 2011 and earned $478,985 in his career before being retired to Haven Oaks in 2012.
Recently, Hooper decided he wanted to start the non-profit Inherit the Gold Foundation for retired racehorses. There is also a business operating out of Haven Oaks to which Hooper will funnel retired horses, Adirondack Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. That business is run by Schroon Lake native Shannon Myles, a licensed clinical social worker who uses retired horses to assist in the treatment of a variety of mental health challenges.
“I thought of ways that would work for the horses in the long term, sort of a legacy that I could see through ... that would handle a certain, finite amount of horses, and hold them in retirement, retrain and work them through in a cycle,” Jim Hooper said. “Most of them, trying to retrain them for a second career, but if they can’t quite go that route, we’ll keep them for retirement.”
Hooper is still learning the particulars of operating a non-profit organization and is working toward getting his 501(c)(3) status.
“So we have to be really careful as we go forward, that we do everything properly,” Hooper said, “and one of the things is as I’m doing the non-profit, I’m trying to help Shannon with her business.
“She’s not in position to do it for free, so I’m trying to get her started with a business that I can feed through my non-profit and still be doing everything Uncle Sam’s happy with,” Hooper added.
Hooper also has goals once he gets his tax-exempt status.
“The retired horses come here, we raise money through charitable events once we have our 501 certification and we can reach for bigger and better things. Like, right now I can’t give anybody a tax deduction because I’m not (certified). Right now, all I can do is ask people to help me get this started,” Hooper said.
Hooper said he’s been mulling the non-profit since Inherit the Gold, or “Harry” as Hooper calls him, was retired. One of the things Hooper hates doing is going after clients for their money when they’re late paying. He began to think, what if he dedicated a certain number of stalls to retired horses and his non-profit.
“Can I raise a ballpark figure of $500 a month to take care of a retired racehorse properly? If you take on 10 horses, there’s $5,000 a month,” Hooper said. “I’ve just decided I can do that. I’ve started with a target of five.”
Hooper had his first event to raise money, a chicken barbecue, in June. He is hopeful to have another event over Labor Day weekend.
“It’s a new arena, but it doesn’t intimidate me,” Hooper said.
Myles grew up working with horses at friends’ and neighbors’ houses
“I hung a bridle on my mirror growing up,” she said.
When she visited family in Wyoming a few years back, she learned about equine-assisted psychotherapy and was hooked.
“As soon as I knew it was possible, I knew what I was going to do,” Myles said. “Traditional therapy in an office is talk-based. You never get to witness how they deal with stress or trauma in their lives. But with horses, you get to see for yourself.”
Her program provides trauma-focused mental health therapy by having patients work with horses inside round training pens. Patients meet all five horses — each with a different personality — and decide which one they would like to work with. That usually proves to be problematic, at first. Because once patients picks their horses, they may not switch.
“A lot of times they’re picking horses that will treat them as people have treated them,” Myles said.
Myles uses biofeedback, which monitors patients’ breathing and heart rate, so they can see how they’re feeling when a horse reacts a certain way. Myles said the patients learn from that. She cited a woman who practically never said “no” to anyone in her life, so when her horse does something that makes her uncomfortable, she has to learn to tell it, “no.” Myles is extending that to making the woman say “no” to one person per week.
Myles and the Hoopers began working together in September, but she started opening the program to clients on May 1. Myles said studies have shown this type of therapy works better and faster than traditional office therapy, generally in about one year. While she hasn’t discharged any patient yet because of the newness of her program, she’s already seen her clients make great progress, thanks to the horses.
“A horse,” Myles said, “doesn’t care if you’re the president of the United States or homeless on the street.”